Q&A: Incorporating Accessibility into the Procurement Process


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Implementing accessibility into the procurement process at an institution is a big task. In order to successfully obtain the technology and tools needed, a university should have its accessibility goals clearly outlined, as well as a clear process for the purchase of new technology. It’s crucial to have enough prior knowledge to know what questions to ask, what resources to use, who to involve in the process, and how to evaluate the technology’s accessibility.

Kara Zirkle, Accessible Technology Specialist at Miami University, presents Incorporating Accessibility into the Procurement Process, which goes over the lessons she’s learned from establishing a procurement process at George Mason and now Miami University.

Below are some of the questions and answers from the webinar that discuss important terminology, as well as the various roles of those involved in implementing accessibility.

 Watch the Full Webinar ➡️ 

What does fundamental alteration refer to?

KARA ZIRKLE: Fundamental alteration requires you to change a product so much to make it accessible that it’s changing the actual functionality of what it was designed for.

An old example is the pager. People used to carry pagers around so it would just buzz on their hip and they would be able to see the phone number and the message that someone put in. If you would actually start to make sound go along with that, or a blinking light or something, that would actually be fundamentally altering the point of the pager (which is something that’s very small and not very noticeable in getting someone’s attention).

Who determines which products need accessibility requirements? Is it the buyer or a more specialized accessibility expert or team? Who do you see as the evaluator of vendor VPATs, demos, etc. to determine if acceptable to meet requirements and are ok to purchase?

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KARA ZIRKLE: If there is an accessibility specialist, they would be the one reviewing the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT), and also testing the demo to the WCAG 2.0 level AA standards. Or if you’re not within the US, whatever standards might apply to that country.

As to which standards apply– looking at it from a policy perspective– most schools are going with WCAG 2.0 because Section 508 Refresh did just take effect in January. So if it’s anything within the States, it’s usually the standard that we look at. If it’s outside of that, then– in Canada, you have AOTA, which is very similar to WCAG 2.0. Each country does have its own laws.

If it’s going to be looking at it from a standpoint of that authoring tool, then there are those standards, as well. Really, looking at the definition of each standard, it’s very obvious as to which ones would fall into which sections, whether it’s a web-based application, whether it’s a video versus documentation that might need Braille, or whatever it might be. But most of those definitions usually allow you to see which ones will apply.

What is an automated testing application? Could you give an example?

KARA ZIRKLE: An automated testing application is usually a software or a web plug-in that will spider through a website or an application. So a lot of times, if you look at and Google WebAIM– W- E-B-A-I-M– WAVE– W-A-V-E– that’s a good example of an automated tool. They actually have it put in as a URL, so you can actually plug in or drop in, say, overstock.com, and it’ll go to that site and have that spider through and show it.

But they also have it as plug-ins to your browser. So that way, if you’re on any website, all you have to do is click on the plug-in and it’ll spider through that site to actually give you the errors that come up. And those are the free tools. There are also at-cost tools that’ll do a little bit more, that’s not just a page-by-page basis. But they provide reporting information about accessibility even when you don’t have the specialist to do the manual testing.

Do you have a recommendation on how to implement VPAT in a de-centralized, multi-college/campus district?

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KARA ZIRKLE: Really, it goes back to education and awareness. If it’s really that large, I would look at how they are pushing out the security education and awareness or another type of required training. I know Title IX has also been one that’s really become a little bit more known within the last couple of years.

So look to see how those areas have been successful, and see if you can piggyback on the types or the ways that they’re doing their education to also do your own education in regard to the procurement process and the VPAT and the accessibility.

Watch the full webinar below to learn more about how to incorporate accessibility into the procurement process at your university!

This post was originally published on April 9, 2018, by Elisa Edelberg Lewis and has since been updated for clarity, freshness, and comprehensiveness.

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